Author Archive

Wait, were these CNBC or MSNBC Rankings?

July 16, 2021

Friends,

You may have seen in the news recently that CNBC ranked Virginia as the top state in which to do business.

If you’re like me, your eyebrows rose when you read it. My mind immediately went to all of the liberal priorities that Governor Northam and his allies in Richmond have pushed through since taking control in 2019.

Higher taxes, increased minimum wage, burdensome regulations, higher energy costs, California style green energy mandates, more liability for employers…the list goes on and on.

So how – in spite of all of these anti-business policies adopted over the past year – can we still be the best state to do business? Steve Haner, from the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy wondered the same thing. In a column he wrote this week, he pointed to other factors adding to his perplexity, including Virginia’s cost of living and the cost of doing business rankings, which clocked in at numbers 32 and 24 respectively. Virginia ranked a mediocre 19 in job growth. Our “Business Friendliness” score also dropped from the top three in 2019 to eleventh this year. Not great trends if we want to grow Virginia’s economy. Steve decided to take a deeper dive into Virginia’s #1 ranking and what he found was enlightening.

It seems that Virginia was saved by a brand-new ranking category introduced by CNBC’s into its calculation. It’s a category called “Life, Health and Inclusion.” I guess we should have expected something like this from the sister network to MSNBC. There had to be a way to reward states like Virginia for their embrace of the woke and liberal initiatives now so in vogue among the media and liberal elite. In an effort to explain this new category, CNBC says “we have expanded our measures of inclusiveness, looking more deeply at protections against discrimination, as well as at voting rights and current efforts to expand or restrict access to the polls, based on legislation enacted as of June 1, 2021” As Steve point out in his column, the data shows that the “preference of actual businesses seems significantly at odds with CNBC’s rankings.”

Maybe Steve can do us the further favor of letting us know where Virginia would rank using last year’s criteria. It will not provide any cause for celebration.

If you’d like to help out our cause in the fight to stand up for our conservative values and common sense policies, click below to donate securely online or send a check payable to Friends of Mark Obenshain to P.O. Box 555 Harrisonburg, VA  22803.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Best,

Mark Obenshain

Businesses Unable to Fill Job Openings

June 4, 2021

NFIB’s chief economist William C. Dunkelberg, issued the following comments on NFIB’s May 2021 Jobs Report


NFIB Chief Economist
William Dunkelberg

A record-high 48% of small business owners in May reported unfilled job openings (seasonally adjusted), according to NFIB’s monthly jobs report. May is the fourth consecutive month of record-high readings for unfilled job openings and is 26 points higher than the 48-year historical reading of 22%.

“Small business owners are struggling at record levels trying to get workers back in open positions,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Owners are offering higher wages to try to remedy the labor shortage problem. Ultimately, higher labor costs are being passed on to customers in higher selling prices.”

Sixty-one percent of owners reported hiring or trying to hire in May. Owners have plans to fill open positions with a seasonally adjusted net 27% planning to create new jobs in the next three months.

A net 34% of owners (seasonally adjusted) reported raising compensation, the highest level in the past 12 months. A net 22% of owners plan to raise compensation in the next three months, up two points from April.

Small business owners continue to report finding qualified employees remains a problem with 93% of owners hiring or trying to hire reported few or no “qualified” applications for the positions they were trying to fill in May. Thirty-two percent of owners reported few qualified applicants for their positions and 25% reported none.

Eight percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem and 26% said that labor quality was their top business problem, the top business concern.

Forty percent of small business owners have job openings for skilled workers and 27% have openings for unskilled labor. In the construction industry, 51% of job openings are for skilled workers. Sixty-six percent of construction businesses reported few or no qualified applicants.

Click here to view the entire NFIB Jobs Report

The full Small Business Economic Trends report will be released on Tuesday, June 8th.

Opinion: Time for Virginia to reject federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits

May 29, 2021

By BRYAN K. STEPHENS and BOB MCKENNAFOR THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT |MAY 29, 2021 AT 6:05 PM

After 15 months of varying levels of shutdown and mandated restrictions on our businesses, our economy is ready to boom once again, and we’re all ready to get back to living a normal life heading into the summer. That obviously includes reconnecting with friends and family at restaurants and bars and heading to the beach or mountains for well-deserved breaks and missed celebrations of life’s events.

Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO Bryan K. Stephens
Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO Bryan K. Stephens (Helen’s Place Photography 757-229-1702/Courtesy of Hampton Roads Chamber)

Many people have built up rainy-day funds that they are ready to spend, patronizing those businesses (such as restaurants, theme parks and hotels) that had to scrape by and adapt to the shutdowns and restrictions just to survive. Now with the pandemic subsiding, they are ready to open to full capacity.

Bob McKenna
Bob McKenna (Courtesy photo)

So we should all be looking forward to a great summer filled with fun, travel, celebrations, amazing food and great fellowship, right? Whoa, not so fast! Restaurants, bars, hotels, entertainment venues and amusement parks (among many other retail-type businesses) are struggling mightily right now to find enough employees to keep their doors open under the COVID-19 restrictions, much less to open to full capacity.

We have a unique and counter-intuitive situation where unemployment is relatively high, yet there is also a labor shortage. Job fairs are empty, job interviews are missed, and “we’re hiring” signs are in the window of just about every restaurant and retail business in town. Restaurants such as McDonald’s offer signing bonuses and cash just to get people to show up for interviews. And, still, they are desperate to hire more.

How can this be? Here’s the problem: the federal government, through the best of intentions, is providing enhanced federal unemployment benefits to the tune of $300 per week extra. So, essentially, not working is being subsidized. This cannot continue if we are going to have a thriving summer and beyond.

After spending trillions of dollars on pandemic relief, we can no longer afford to pay people to stay at home. Mask mandates are going away, pandemic restrictions are being loosened or eliminated, and the vaccine is widely available. It’s time to encourage people to get back to work and back to normal, not stay at home and do nothing. Numerous states have already decided to opt-out of this extra money. Those states also see their unemployment levels shrink back to pre-pandemic numbers and businesses opening to full capacity.

Numerous regional organizations are trying to solve this problem with training programs and employment assistance. For instance, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council provides tremendous support for job seekers. So even for those individuals who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and feel they are unqualified to seek other employment, there are plenty of job training opportunities and assistance available in Hampton Roads. Reach out to them. Get the training and assistance you need. Get employed.

Gov, Ralph Northam can help too. It’s time for the commonwealth to say “no thanks” to the federal government and opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the benefit is scheduled to run out on Sept. 1, but that’s too late for us, especially for those in the restaurant, lodging and tourism industries.

The summer of 2021 should be a memorable, less stressful one in Hampton Roads, one in which our businesses experience a tremendous recovery from the pain of last summer. However, we need our businesses to be fully up and running for that to happen. And for them to be fully up and running, they need employees.

Let’s ensure all who visit Hampton Roads this summer know we are open for business.

Bryan K. Stephens is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. Bob McKenna is president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

Senator Obenshain and Delegate Gilbert Announce DMV Connect Program in Strasburg

May 25, 2021

Legislators to Bring DMV Services to Constituents

HARRISONBURG, VA – Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R- Mt. Jackson) are pleased to announce that they are partnering with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to host a DMV Connect program on June 7,8, and 9 at the Town Hall in Strasburg (174 East King Street Strasburg, VA 22847.)  Services will be by appointment only and priority will be given to residents of the 26th Senate District and 15th House District. Appointments will be available in fifteen-minute increments from 9am until Noon and 1pm until 4pm each day.   

“We have heard from many constituents that they are still unable to schedule DMV appointments for two months or more.  These delays are a result of the Governor’s unwillingness to fully re-open DMV offices across the Commonwealth.  Citizens need to be able to efficiently access DMV services and I am proud that Delegate Gilbert and I were able to partner with the Town of Strasburg to bring the DMV Connect program to our districts, “ Obenshain said.

“I am pleased that Senator Obenshain and I are able to bring the DMV Connect program to the Strasburg area. With many of our constituents experiencing unduly delays in attempting to schedule timely appointments at the DMV, we appreciate the collaboration with the Town of Strasburg to help provide this service,” Gilbert said.

DMV Connect can assist individuals with driver’s licenses, REAL ID, i.d. cards, disabled parking placards, vehicle titling, address changes, vehicle registration and other essential services. Road testing and vital records requests cannot be accommodated at a DMV Connect program. More information can be found at the DMV Connect website.

Individuals can call Senator Obenshain’s office at 540-437-1451 thru June 4 to make their appointment.

Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate.  The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).  He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is the former Chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission.

Delegate Gilbert represents the fifteenth district in the Virginia House of Delegates, which includes all of Shenandoah and Page, and portions of Warren and Rockingham counties. Delegate Gilbert serves as the House Republican Leader and is a member of the Rules and Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources, and Finance committees.

###

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OBENSHAIN CONTACT:  Jennifer Aulgur

PHONE: (540) 437-1451

EMAIL:  [email protected]

GILBERT CONTACT:  Jeff Walters

PHONE: (540) 459-7550

EMAIL: [email protected]

Texas governor signs law banning abortions early as 6 weeks

May 19, 2021

Fox News | May 19

Law prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban, but allows lawsuits against abortion providers.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas became the largest state Wednesday with a law that bans abortions before many women even know they are pregnant, but with a unique provision that essentially leaves enforcement to private citizens through lawsuits against doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.

The law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott puts Texas in line with more than a dozen other states that ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks. Federal courts have mostly blocked the measures from taking effect.

But with the Supreme Court this week agreeing to take up a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, abortion rights activists worry that a ruling favorable to the state could lay the groundwork for allowing even more abortion restrictions, including so-called heartbeat bills.

Texas’ version is unique in that it prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban. Instead, it allows anyone — even someone outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.

Critics say that provision would allow abortion opponents to flood the courts with lawsuits to harass doctors, patients, nurses, domestic violence counselors, a friend who drove a woman to a clinic, or even a parent who paid for a procedure.

Texas law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for a woman with a life-threatening medical condition or if the fetus has a severe abnormality. More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Supreme Court will probably hear the Mississippi case in the fall, with a decision likely in spring 2022.

EDITORIAL: Don’t eliminate advanced diplomas

May 18, 2021

BY THE EDITORIAL PAGE STAFF OF THE FREE LANCE-STAR May 18, 2021

UBLIC school students in Virginia are entitled to an education that best fits their specific needs. This applies not only to students who are struggling academically, but also to students who are willing and able to do accelerated work.

Last month, a committee of the Virginia Department of Education looked at the possibility of consolidating the commonwealth’s standard and advanced diplomas as a way to achieve racial equity. “There does continue to be a stark difference in which students we see earning which diploma,” said Leslie Sale, director of the VDOE Office of Policy. She noted that in 2019, 79 percent of Asian students earned advanced diplomas, compared with 63 percent of white students, 44 percent of Hispanic students, and 40 percent of Black students.

But the most stark difference between them is not race. It’s how much effort students put in to earn an advanced diploma instead of a standard diploma.

The minimum requirements for a standard diploma are four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of a lab science, and three years of history and social science in addition to physical education and various electives, for a total of 22 credits. However, earning an advanced diploma includes an extra year of mathematics, laboratory science, history and social science and three years of a foreign language, for a total of 26 credits.

A 2014 VDOE-sponsored study by the Virginia College and Career Readiness Institute found that 83 percent of students who earned an advanced diploma enrolled in college and remained enrolled until they earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, compared with just 46 percent of students who earned a standard diploma.

And VDOE’S own 2012 study, “High School Predictors of College Readiness,” noted that research “showed unequivocally that when [racial/ethnic minority] students reach higher levels of achievement in high school, their chances of success in college are much closer to those of other students who have the same level of achievement.”

The reason for this is simple: “These diploma types demand vastly different requirements of students during their four years in high school,” according to the study. And since an advanced diploma is also better aligned with college-level coursework, minority students arrive on campus better prepared to succeed.

Turning the clear difference between diplomas into a racial equity issue does a great disservice to all students, including minority students, who take on the challenges of a harder course load in high school. All students should be told the truth as freshmen that, as the CCRI study points out, “diploma types matter,” not only in preparing students for college and helping them earn a degree, but also in finding a well-paying job in the increasingly technological workplace beyond college as well.

If a disproportionately low number of Black and Hispanic students are signing up for the advanced studies diploma, the solution is not to get rid of the diploma, but for educators in elementary and middle schools to ask themselves some difficult questions:

Are they identifying and mentoring smart minority kids? Are they sufficiently challenging these students and steering them into advanced work, or are they accepting average or sub-standard work from them due to what former President George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations?” Have they explained to parents how important it is to make sure their minority child is on grade level well before they get to high school?

It’s much easier to lower the bar than to raise student achievement. But that doesn’t promote equity for anyone.

Skepticism persists over new admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School

May 18, 2021

BY ANUJ KHEMKA / For InsideNoVa May 18, 2021

Krish Bommakanti spent two years preparing to apply to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.  Costly test prep courses and countless hours of studying would be worth it if it meant admission to the top-ranked public high school in the nation. 

But on Nov. 9, the Fairfax County School Board moved to remove the standardized test that students work so tirelessly to ace. Weeks later, the board decided that socioeconomic status and region would factor into the admission process. 

“The changes are a bit disheartening because I spent a lot of time preparing for the actual standardized test,” said Bommakanti, an eighth-grader at Longfellow Middle School in the Falls Church area.

As Thomas Jefferson – a magnet school attended by students from across Northern Virginia – prepares to offer admission to the first class selected under the new guidelines, community members and policy-makers continue to be skeptical of the changes. 

From June through December last year, factions of parents, alumni and policy-makers fiercely debated the merit of proposed changes to TJ’s admissions process. As dual advocacy groups – the Coalition for TJ and the TJ Alumni Action Group – formed, spirited protests took place on campus, infighting emerged within school Facebook groups and once-mundane Parent Teacher Student Association meetings became tense battlegrounds. 

And the School Board’s decision Dec. 17 to transition to a holistic review system didn’t end the doubt and division.

The parent-led Coalition for TJ, for example, filed a lawsuit in December to combat the removal of a standardized test and launched another case March 10 aimed at admissions criteria that take into account region and socioeconomic status. Both cases currently await hearings in court. 

Meanwhile, both prospective and current students also hold reservations about the changes. In previous years, admissions officers used a combination of teacher recommendations, grade-point average, the standardized test and four timed short essays to evaluate applicants. With the School Board’s decision, teacher recommendations and the standardized test have been removed from the mix, although the timed essays remain. 

“I think standardized tests do well to show where you rank among your peers. Implementing one is a good way of determining a hierarchy,” Bommakanti said. 

However, eighth-graders Dhruv Chandna and Daniel Campos – both of whom also took test prep courses in anticipation of applying to TJ – approve of the change. Chandna attends Robert Frost Middle School, while Campos goes to Luther Jackson Middle School. 

“I like the way they did it, and I think it will improve diversity,” Chandna said. Test prep classes are expensive, he noted.  “Some people don’t have that money, so it’s very hard for them to get into TJ.”

In place of the tests and teacher recommendations, students’ socioeconomic status and other so-called “experience factors” will now be taken into account. It’s here, however, that Campos believes the School Board made a mistake. 

“Why would you need [to consider] socioeconomic status?” Campos said. “The most important thing is the student, and if they’re going to excel at the school. I don’t think their background and how much money their family has has anything to do with it. It should be based on the student’s capacity and knowledge.”

However, TJ senior Dinan Elsyad, one of the few Black students who attend the school, worries that the School Board did not go far enough in this aspect, even though she acknowledges that legally race cannot be a factor in the decision.  

“The process itself doesn’t really take into account the inequities that come along with a specific race that you’re a part of,” Elsyad added. “I went to a wealthy middle school. I am not part of a lower socioeconomic status group. Technically, I shouldn’t have had issues, but I was harassed by several teachers during my middle school years just because of my race.” 

One of the most significant changes to the TJ admissions process is the implementation of individual-school quotas. At a minimum, the number of students admitted from each public middle school will be equivalent to 1.5% of their eighth-grade student population. For example, a middle school with 800 eighth-graders would send a minimum of 12 students to TJ, assuming that at least 12 eighth-graders out of the 800 choose to apply. The county has 23 public middle schools, with student populations as high as 1,500. In total, 550 prospective students will be offered seats at TJ for the fall. 

The change seeks to correct a longstanding lack of geographical diversity at the school. More than half of the students admitted to TJ’s Class of 2019, for example, came from just five of the public middle schools in Fairfax. 

“There was concern that TJ didn’t reflect geographic diversity in our county – that we were disproportionately drawing from certain middle schools,” School Board member Megan McLaughlin said. “By these changes, going school by school, we will certainly see improved access to TJ for students who are dealing with poverty.” 

During the 2019-20 school year, just 2.4% of TJ students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Countywide, the percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch stood much higher, at 32%. 

However, McLaughlin believes that the individual-school quotas may underrepresent students at Advanced Academic Program centers as well as students at known feeder schools into TJ – where families often move to increase their children’s chances of admission to the magnet school. 

“Students at AAP centers are getting the same number of allocated admission seats at TJ as all of the other middle schools. This gives me pause,” McLaughlin said. 

Having completed their timed essays in March, TJ’s newest applicants now wait anxiously for their results, expected in June.  For many, the prevailing question is whether the changes will solve the issues that they sought to address in the first place. 

“We just have to wait and see,” Elsyad said. 

Anuj Khemka is a junior at Thomas Jefferson, where he is the online editor-in-chief of the student news outlet tjTODAY. 

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to Mississippi abortion law

May 17, 2021

May 17 | Fox News

State’s ban had been blocked by lower courts as inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider a major rollback of abortion rights, saying it will decide whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

The court’s order sets up a showdown over abortion, probably in the fall, with a more conservative court seemingly ready to dramatically alter nearly 50 years of rulings on abortion rights.

The court first announced a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and reaffirmed it 19 years later.

The case involves a Mississippi law that would prohibit abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The state’s ban had been blocked by lower courts as inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent that protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion before the fetus can survive outside her womb.

The justices had put off action on the case for several months. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an abortion-rights proponent, died just before the court’s new term began in October. Her replacement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, is the most open opponent of abortion rights to join the court in decades.  

Barrett is one of three appointees of former President Donald Trump on the Supreme Court. The other two, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, voted in dissent last year to allow Louisiana to enforce restrictions on doctors that could have closed two of the state’s three abortion clinics.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Ginsburg and the other three liberal justices, said the restrictions were virtually identical to a Texas law the court struck down in 2016.

But that majority no longer exists, even if Roberts, hardly an abortion-rights supporter in his more than 15 years on the court, sides with the more liberal justices.

The Mississippi law was enacted in 2018, but was blocked after a federal court challenge. The state’s only abortion clinic remains open. The owner has said the clinic does abortions up to 16 weeks.

The case is separate from a fight over laws enacted by Mississippi and other states that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks — when a fetal heartbeat may be detected.

A central question in the case is about viability — whether a fetus can survive outside the woman at 15 weeks. The clinic presented evidence that viability is impossible at 15 weeks, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the state “conceded that it had identified no medical evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks.”  

The Mississippi law would allow exceptions to the 15-week ban in cases of medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. Doctors found in violation of the ban would face mandatory suspension or revocation of their medical license.

Obenshain Calls on Governor Northam to Fully Lift Statewide Mask Mandate

May 14, 2021

CONTACT:  Connor Smith

PHONE: (904) 235-3562

EMAIL:  [email protected]

Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) released the following statement in response to Governor Northam’s limited modifications to his statewide mask mandate lifting it in some circumstances and only for those adults who are fully vaccinated.

“At this point, everyone in Virginia has had an opportunity to sign up for a vaccination. Virginians can be trusted to decide for themselves whether or not to wear a mask.”

“States like Texas and Florida lifted their mask mandates and reopened their states nearly 3 months ago – after their states’ most vulnerable citizens had an opportunity to secure vaccinations. And they did it without experiencing the surge predicted by the liberal political class and pundits. We need to quit succumbing to crazy pseudo-science and the political weaponization of COVID.”

“Common sense, experience, and science have converged here, yet Governor Northam has persisted in his stubborn refusal to adopt anything but half measures. I am calling on the Governor to end the mask mandate in its entirety, to trust Virginians to make the right choices for themselves and their families.”

“Remember that the mandate covers anyone 5 years or older. Lifting the mask mandate for only those who have been vaccinated still leaves it in place for 5-year-olds, despite a total lack of science to support masking kindergarteners – or at least they would be kindergarteners if the Governor would reopen schools.  The Governor should lift the mask mandate, in its entirety, and proceed to reopen Virginia – now.”

###

Senator Obenshain’s Endorsements

May 7, 2021

Wondering who Senator Obenshain has endorsed for the 2021 Republican Party of Virginia Nominating Convention? Check out below!

Governor: Pete Snyder

Suzanne and I have known Pete and Burson for a long time. I was proud to serve on the board of the organization they founded last year to help struggling small businesses called VA30 Fund.

Pete’s a successful business owner himself and has what it takes to beat the Democrats in November. Find out more about Pete at www.PeteSnyder.com

Lieutenant Governor: Tim Hugo

Honorable Tim Hugo | The Livingston Group, L.L.C.

Tim has been a conservative anchor in bluer and bluer Northern Virginia for years and he’s never wavered in his conservative ideals. He’s exactly who we need presiding over our Senate and standing up for the Republican Party. Find out more about Tim at www.TimHugo.com

Attorney General: Jason Miyares

Jason Miyares - Wikipedia

Jason is the proven Conservative we need as our next Attorney General. He has worked to put criminals behind bars, protected our 2A rights & will bring accountability to our elections. Join me in voting for Jason Miyares on 5/8. Find out more about Jason at www.jasonmiyares.com